Seeking that Wild Asparagus Bliss

April 8, 2016 / Food & Wine

Scratched arms and legs, thorn-pricked hands and itchy, sweaty skin can all herald bliss:
when you scramble up out of the woods, scraped hands clutching a big bunch of tender wild asparagus. The past couple days have brought that bliss: an unseasonably warm spring has yielded unprecendented wild asparagus abundance this year.

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ASPARAGUS YIELD, APRIL 2016-sm

How to use this delectable woodland treasure? In frittata agli asparagi, risotto agli asparagi or tagliatelle agli asparagi? Many years ago, farm neighbor Chiarina had taught me to make frittata agli asparagi and from Mandina, I’d learned risotto agli asparagi. But after I mastered the art of rolling out homemade pasta, there was no going back: tagliatelle agli asparagi became a springtime favorite.

Chiarina's wild asparagus frittata is almost ready for flipping-sm
Asparagus frittata - che buono!-sm
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Near the woodstove, my pasta-making - anne 19 77 approx
Asparagus on tagliatelle, april 2016-sm

And wild asparagus is more than a palate-pleaser: Peppa simmers wild asparagus pieces in water for drinking before bed. “Ottimo per i reni – e la salute in genere” (Excellent for the kidneys – and health in general), she affirms wisely.

PEPPA AND ASPARAGUS

Here in Umbria, dogs are used to hunt wild boar, pheasants and hare and some breeds are trained to sniff out the truffles; but dogs don’t forage for wild asparagus.

At least, not ours. I coaxed along our big white Maremanno shepherd, Lamone, on one wild asparagus hunt, sending him ahead of me through the high grasses waving under our olive trees bordering our woods. He’d scare away any vipers, hopefully: our farm friends had always warned to be wary when wild asparagus foraging, for in warm weather, the viper seeks the woodland cool. But in nearly forty years of scrambling up and down over the rocks in our woods, I’ve never seen one.

Lamone wasn’t up for the adventure though: he plopped down in a copse of grass near the woods, peacefully watching me scramble up and down among the brambles while panting with what I swore was a smug grin.

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Lamone’s not like our first sheep, Sophie: years ago, while I was deep in the woods hunting the first asparagus shoots, Sophie had joined in my foraging.

Sophie, our first sheep - 1976 springtime

She’d been Pino’s first birthday gift to me when we moved to work the land in Umbria in the mid-1970’s. He hadn’t paid much: we had little and she was worth little. None of our farm neighbors would buy Sophie from Aldo, local shepherd: she was old, lame and arthritic (limping and hobbling) – but she was pregnant (herein lay Pino’s “investment”!).

SHEEP..FIRST LAMBS
Aldo with his sheep dog-sm

Pregnant, round-bellied Sophie bleated mournfully those first days after separation from Aldo’s flock. When I staked her out on the chain, she hobbled around in agitated endless circles, bleating forlornly. I finally let her off the chain to wander freely in the fields.

One May day, I’d put on high rubber (“anti-viper”) boots, grabbed my walking stick and headed down into the woods for wild asparagus. Suddenly, a racket above broke the woodland quiet: dead wood cracking, branches breaking, dead leaves rustling – and then a forlorn “baaaaaaaaaa”. Lonely Sophie was hurtling down among the trees after me, in a frantic search for company.

Sophie is no longer with me on my wild asparagus hunts. Sometimes, Pino joins me but often, I head into the woods on my own for wild asparagus foraging bliss.

Pino has a few-sm

Bliss reigns later at the table, too… when the wild asparagus stars in tasty dishes like this one:
Tagliatelle agli Asparagi con Polpettine (Fettuccine Pasta with Wild Aspargus and Baby Meatball Sauce)

asparagus pasta sauce - che buono!-sm

Or scrambled eggs with wild asparagus…

Scrambled eggs with wild asparagus -sm

Or as a base for various pasta….

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(Videos done by Oriente Occidente Productions. Grazie infinite!)

Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

32 Responses to “Seeking that Wild Asparagus Bliss”

  1. Judy pusateri

    Unfortunately mine won’t be wild, but I will be using asparagus in everything! Thanks for the article….miss you and Italy!

    Reply
  2. Susan Luber

    Oh Anne, these photos are fabulous! Thanks for taking us along on your memories, past and present. Warmest regards to you.

    Reply
  3. Gian Banchero

    Ciao e buon giorno cara Anne!!!; Here is the San Francisco East Bay your article is a wonderful way to start the day for me!! The wonderful memories I have of my ancient Nonna Lena wanting me drive her to the hills and hidden forest lands above my town of Berkeley were brought back with today’s article and photos, grazie. Nonna knew all wild plants and their season fit for the table, thankfully she taught me them all; “Every month has it’s harvest”, as
    she would say. Thankfully Nonna Lena lived to a month short of 100, enough years to ignite an interest to the young in the family that there is more to life than video games. Oh, her wonderful stories of times old from another century!! Now more than a few of her great grandchildren are to be found foraging in the hills, all the while listening to the echos of her stories of times old. Grazie Nonna e grazie Anne.

    Reply
    • Gian Banchero

      Today I saw your tutorial about making a frittata having learned something new, such as placing the pecorino ON the frittata instead of mixing it IN before turning it over, I must try that soon. Also, I watched your video about Olive trees. I have a 20 foot tree that because of the drought here in northern California hasn’t produced a crop in years, BUT this year because of heavy rains it looks like we’re to have a large crop. Because we’re not in an oil zone (too much summer fog) the olives are salt cured until “just right”, the salt then cleaned off completely to be lightly drenched with olive oil. With a frittata, good-home-made peasant bread, family made red table wine, and an old family recipe for minestra we need little else in this world other than more grandchildren…

      Reply
  4. Marian

    Lots down here in the Madonie mountains too Anne. We make an asparagus sughetto (in bianco) with lots of garlic, homemade olive oil, a drop of water and a blob of cream for either risotto or spaghetti

    Reply
  5. Such a beautiful account and wonderful photos. I would like to visit Umbria right now!

    Reply
  6. Kathy Kelsey

    Love the photos. Wish I was there with you to enjoy the asparagus! My mouth is watering.

    Reply
  7. Jack Litewka

    A wonderful tale, and some wonderful photos. I assume that Pino does not get to eat any of the wild-asparagus dishes you make if he doesn’t go wild-asparagus hunting with you, right? ;-)

    Reply
  8. Anne, My life has been busy since relocating”I’m not in Italy yet” but I’m working on it. Your article today reminded me to slow down, relax and enjoy life. I loved the whole thing. Your ability to speak from the present, take us back in time and return us safely to the present is incredible… Plus you feed us in the end.
    Thank for for keeping it real and yes we love seeing and hearing about Pino too!!!
    Great work Anne, loved it. Keep writing.

    Reply
  9. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your column on hunting wild asparagus. I especially loved your juxtaposition of b/w photo shots with photos of yummy food. I loved looking at your face then and now, and note how age may change us, but it never takes out the sparkle in your eyes when out on a successful food hunt!
    Here in northern New England we wait a long while for spring–and then the mushroom hunt is on. I can’t wait!
    I will think of your column as I enjoy the first fresh local asparagus–alas, bought at the market.
    Ciao,
    Linda

    Reply
  10. Annie has done it again: graceful, literate prose with stunning photos.

    Reply
  11. Marianna Raccuglia

    I so enjoy your articles and wonderful photos, dear Anne Thanks so much-very interesting.
    Hope to see you soon, Marianna

    Reply
  12. Louise Montalbano

    Wow! I just love springtime in Italy. We too have been enjoying the wild asparagus in everything we can put it in. I loved your video of the tutorial for making frittata with the asparagus. I think you have a future in front of the camera!!

    Reply
  13. Donna Ulteig

    I remember working down the street from a patch of wild asparagus that called to me daily in the spring! Oh the delectable dishes! Now I watch the asparagus patch I the back corner of my city lot and know that it’s appearance signals spring and a chance to try the frittata recipe!

    Reply
  14. Sam Moss

    Wow! Annie, we can almost smell and taste the wonderful asparagus tagliatelle! We look so forward to renewing our long friendship when we return for feast of St Francis. Maybe we’ll cook up something together!

    Reply
  15. Suzanne and Jack

    Dear Anne. Your writing both takes us back and puts us in the present. Fabulous memories of spring in Assisi enjoying wild asparagus. I love your photos and thank you for your recipes. Can’t wait to try them.

    Reply
  16. Sandra Spector

    Annie,
    You look so cute hunting for asparagus. It was a real treat joining you for a meal where you were here in the SF Bay area. I didn’t know which term to use: Yum, or squisito! Both work.
    Please write your book already!! At least a compilation of these “short stories”.
    Keep them coming. They are the best.

    Reply
  17. Nancy Caporaso

    Love the commentary and pictures! Takes me right back…
    Thanks for another great post

    Reply
  18. Eileen Gantz

    Thank you SO MUCH , Anne, for yet another one of your great posts! You have an amazing ability to perfectly reflect the Beauty, heart & soul of Bell’Italia .
    Can’t wait for the next one!!!

    Reply
  19. LOVE the story and history behind this!! Who knew wild asparagus could be so long?? Your videos are a delight, keep them coming!!

    Reply
  20. Judy Thomas

    How awesome! The photographs are so evocative and the videos of you gathering the asparagus and making the frittata, (in the same kitchen I cooked in with you) brought back beautiful memories. You made a frittata then too and it was absolutely delicious. I cannot wait to return! I’m reading a book called “il bel centro” about an American family (young children) who move to Spello for a year and there’s a section about gathering wild asparagus – very interesting – and challenging!

    Reply
  21. What wonderful pictures, story and wonderful dishes…Can’t wait to try some when we come to Assisi. Love Lamone…he looks like a real lover.

    Reply
  22. You’re a great storyteller, Anne, and from what it looks like a fantastic cook as well! I would love to share a meal someday! ;-)

    Reply
  23. Cheryl McCrite

    Just returned from 2 weeks in Italy, spending 4 nights with Anne in the Umbrian countryside apartment in Assisi. Anne was so valuable in assisting the 3 of us for our time spent in this area. Pino has beautifully restored a lovely 3 bedroom apartment a short distance from Assisi and behind Anne’s farmhouse. The apartment was well furnished, had 2 great modern bathrooms, a washer and good wifi! Good wifi is so helpful these days. We had a car which allowed us to come and go easily and explore the various hill towns. We did a half day tour with Anne in Assisi. She has such knowledge and enthusiasm for the Umbrian area, and as an American who has lived here for many many years, she is able to give great advice in English!! So helpful.
    Anne selected a private tour guide for us in Spello, (Werner) who we were very pleased with. This half day tour included another Umbrian village and took in olive groves and a scenic drive. We ended in town with a private pre arranged wine tasting luncheon with Roberto, planned by Anne. What a fabulous experience. Roberto’s wine and olive oil knowledge, his lovely restaurant with superb food and Italian hospitality was beyond words. Jennie, Linda and I felt very special and well taken care of!
    Additionally, Anne opened her farmhouse home to us, served us traditional Umbrian food and wine and in general treated us like family.
    Thank you….thank you! We all had a delightful time.

    Reply
  24. David fleming

    Nowhere else will you find such a vivid account of Umbria as it was and as it remains

    Reply
  25. My husband and I just had the pleasure of enjoying some of the aforementioned wild asparagus picked by Anne, prepared with scrambled eggs and shared in the good company of Pino and Julia. Grazie for your generous hospitality!

    Reply
  26. As an asparagus stalker with some experience let me share a tip with all of you fellows aspagus friends.
    The old saying is that asparagus grow more where there’s been a fire. That is true, in the sense that roots of the asparagus are not destroyed by the fire, everything else is, so the following spring the asaragus plants will grow strongly ( the plant is trying to make up) and easily visible on the scorched earth.
    One can re-create the bounty picking without resorting to setting dangerous fire to the land.
    Pruning!
    If you, like most of us, have your favourite picking areas, carry, as I do, a pruning shear. For every asparagus I pick I cut one, or two or three older stems from the plant.
    It is basically the same pruning one applies to so many other plants: it stimulates and re-juvenates the plant.
    It works wonders…unless you neighbors get there before you, next spring!

    Reply
  27. So beautiful, Anne, the stories, the photos, I especially love the black and white ones of you with the animals, the asparragus, my favorite vegetable… and of course that quintessential spirito generoso degli italiani: mangia, mangia, mangia, that is your life there, mille grazie!

    Reply

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